Bangkok really is that typical, clichéd ‘assault on the senses’ you’ve probably read about before. From the journey into the city centre from the airport – miles upon miles of backed up, furiously honking traffic, which can turn a 35-minute journey into over an hour – to the noisy, skyscraper-lined streets teeming with harried commuters, entreating stallholders, irate tuk tuk drivers and more, you’re plunged into a massive, sprawling metropolis which somehow manages to sustain a population of over eight million people. In short, it’s busy. But it has plenty to offer sight-seers, particularly if you’re using this as a stopover en route to some of the country’s beautiful islands, and a couple of days here is plenty to get a sense of its historic and traditional past – palaces, temples, markets – as well as sampling its often futuristic present (rooftop bars, shopping malls and more).
The one thing you will be thankful for is staying somewhere that feels like a complete haven from the constant commotion outside, and your prayers are well and truly answered by Bangkok’s Banyan Tree hotel.
The fourth property to be established by the eco-conscious hotel group, it opened in 2002 and is located on a central, main road in a district populated largely by embassies. Inside the spacious marble lobby, all is calm and quiet, and you are given the warmest welcome. If you choose a Club Room, you will have access to the comfortable and opulent 19th floor Club Lounge, which has a range of fantastic benefits: access to buffet breakfast, afternoon tea, evening canapés and a range of beverages including alcohol.
The Kingsize Club Rooms have magnificent views over the city; situated upwards of the 30th floor, this becomes particularly impressive at night, when everything lights up. With a capacious bed, separate living area and a bathroom boasting a bath big enough for two, it’s got everything you need. Special touches include the daily signature scented oil in a burner, and a gift of his and hers toiletry bags. Guests also have use of the well-equipped gym, and the rooftop pool on the 21st floor, where you can swim laps surrounded by towering buildings.
Featuring eight restaurants (one of which is on a boat, which you can book for a beautiful and atmospheric dinner cruise), we loved Saffron, which serves sumptuously made traditional Thai food such as pork spring rolls, warm duck salad and massaman curry (beware: ask for it medium or a little spicy, otherwise you will get a mouthful of fire!). Sharpen your appetite with a pre-dinner cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop Moon Bar, on the 61st floor – try a signature Vertigo Sunset, with fresh fruit juices and Malibu as you watch the sun go down and the city’s lights twinkle into life on what feels like the top of the world.
Exploring beyond the hotel, however, is well worth doing. Taxis are plentiful and incredibly cheap (most central journeys cost under £3), and two of the must-see sights include the Grand Palace and famous Buddhist temple, Wat Pho. The Palace was built in 1782 and remained home to the Thai royal family for over 150 years; its ornate, carved roofs, manicured grounds, and distinctive golden spires are usually thronged with visitors so try to get there early (and obey the strict dress code: women must be covered, which means long trousers or skirts and tops with sleeves, as well as covered shoes).
A mere five minutes’ walk away is the imposing temple of Wat Pho, which houses the country’s largest reclining Buddha statue, at 46m long and 15m high. The statue is gilded, and his huge feet are decorated with artistic spiral patterns in mother of pearl. If you would like a little good luck, we recommend purchasing a bowl of coins at the entrance of the hall which you can drop in the 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls. Dropping the small pennies in makes a nice ringing sound and even if your wishes don’t come true, the money goes towards helping the monks renovate and preserve Wat Pho.
If shopping is more your thing, don’t miss MBK, a modern, eight-storey mall filled with more than 2,000 stores selling everything from fashion accessories to handbags and technology. Nearby Siam Paragon is where to go for luxury brands, high street labels, and even an Aston Martin or a Ferrari! If you fancy the authentic Thai market experience, don’t miss the weekend Chatuchak market; 35 acres of market stalls selling colourful souvenirs, clothes, handicrafts, even pets. Bargaining is a must, and when you get tired you can stop off at one of the street food stalls or cafes for a tasty, and cheap, Pad Thai. And when you’ve had enough of the madness, jump straight into a cab back to Banyan Tree…
Flights to Bangkok start from £494 return from London with Thai Airways | thaiairways.com
Prices at Banyan Tree Bangkok start from approx £88 per night in a Deluxe Room. A Club Room King starts from around £150 per night.